EPITAPH LIVE AT THE CAPITOL HANNOVER

When asked by Rolf Mölder to do a benefit gig at Hannover’s legendary rock venue Capitol, it was geographically an ideal opportunity to invite some old colleagues and friends to appear with them in what was to be a memorable concert on 27 November 2012.

Here is a song-by-song walkthrough of the concert, to be released as a double CD and DVD on 20 September 2013.

The opening number is Dances With Ghosts, from the 2009 album of the same name. Inspired by the story of the ghost dancers and their massacre at Wounded Knee. The sadness and madness of the incident is something that is still being repeated across the world, suggesting that humanity has learned precious little over the years.

It starts with a deep and resounding Lakota beat from Achim, really setting the atmosphere, and providing a springboard for the Lakota drumming and dancing of Gilles Marquis and “Grey Owl” Sievers. It is also a pleasure to hear the brilliantly smooth transition he makes from the Indian beat to a time-honoured, heavy 4/4 rock rhythm.

This number also features the excellent Volker Sassenberg on keyboards. As a very talented 17 year old, he started out playing keyboards for Cliff and Bernie’s 1980s excursion into hard rock with Kingdom and Domain. Now having achieved great acclaim with his company Decision Products, for producing, directing, and writing audio plays, it is clear from this performance that Volker has not lost any of his passion for music. He also composes music for theatre and film. Back with Cliff and Bernie for this one-off event, he plays all the keyboards in the first set.

Cold Rain is from the 2007 album Remember the Daze, and is inspired by Cliff Jackson’s childhood in the hard industrial north of England (his grandfather was the famous union organiser Edward Jackson, loved by the workers and hated by the mine-owners in equal measure). It is in a sense his personal take on William Blake’s Jerusalem, from which he escaped through his music.

Another Bloody Day is also from Dances With Ghosts and, as the title suggests, it is about one of those days when it doesn’t just rain, but pours. When anything can go wrong, it all goes wrong. We’ve all been there, it’s a feeling we can sympathise with, but it makes for a great rock song. This relatively recent number has already become a great favourite with the fans, not least due to its instantly recognisable Epitaph sound.

The next two songs are also from the Remember the Daze album. Dead Man’s Train is about how our whole society is headed for a bad end, and no matter what you do, you can neither stop it nor derail it. Everyone is aware what is going on, but we are all powerless to stop this runaway train on its path to destruction.

Remember the Daze is about the way we see the past. The “good old days”, which were never actually quite as good as we like to remember them. And when most old-school rock heroes look back on their past, there are years where all remains a bit of a daze.

Ride the Storm also features Tim Reese, a classically trained violinist, who enjoys reputation of one of the finest Irish folk fiddlers in northern Germany. The song touches on the early, sometimes troubled, days of Epitaph where it really was about riding the storm. It also includes a mention of Epitaph’s original drummer, Jim McGillivray, who although he left the band quite early on still seems to be part of the group’s collective DNA. While there was no fiddle part on the original recording, Tim’s playing adds a new, fresher dimension, and many Epitaph aficionados now consider the live version to be superior.

Sad Song is another Ghosts number, again featuring Tim and Volker. Everyone can relate to the pain of a break-up, but with Heinz’s excellent lead guitar performance it is actually possible to really enjoy the song without thinking about any of the sad aspects. “Since you’ve gone away” is a good hook line, and the break-up is no longer such a bad thing.

Crossroads comes from the Stop, Look & Listen album recorded at the Berlin Audioton Studios in 1972. Bernie ended up doing quite a long bass solo during a 2005 jam session and, after it also proved very popular with audiences, it has been an integral part of every live performance since.

Hole in My Head is a tongue-in-cheek song about waking up after a failed suicide attempt in a seedy motel. It is definitely allegorical not autobiographical, and should not be seen as a secret message to anyone with mental health issues. It’s just a rock song!

The second set of the concert kicks off with Long Live The Children. Originally from the 1982 Danger Man album, it was re-released as a digitally re-mastered CD in 2012. The chorus is appropriately sung by the I.V.O. Kids, a project supported by Rolf’s charity. Under the leadership of Agnes Hapsari Retno, this song has been used in teaching a group of kids from different cultural backgrounds to sing as a choir. With the support of project leader Tatiana Ilchenko and stage trainer Barbara Ellen Erichsen, it was no mean feat for the kids to get up on stage at the Capitol and accompany a real rock band.

Woman is from Epitaph’s legendary 1974 Outside the Law album, recorded in Chicago during their time with Billingsgate Records. It’s a solid, straightforward rock number that uses a southern rock backbeat, and one of Epitaph’s most popular songs of all time. Cliff always felt that the main riff in this piece was somehow reminiscent of an Irish fiddle tune, so it is only fitting that this live performance allowed Tim to demonstrate his wild virtuosity with a long solo at the end of the piece.

Underscored by Volker’s atmospheric keyboards, this version of Can’t You See, also from Dances With Ghosts, is reminiscent of the old psychedelic era. The closed eyes, closed-lip smiles and nodding of heads in some sections of the audience, a very gentle form of headbanging, suggested that some would have been happier if the song had lasted longer than the almost eight minutes it did.

Big City marks the start of the acoustic set, and features Nektar’s Klaus Henatsch on piano, an old friend of the band from the seventies. Epitaph’s popular hymn to the windy city was originally recorded with Chicago session musician Fred Kaz on keyboards. Here Achim steps down from his drums to demonstrate how to conjure up an excellent percussion part with nothing more than a tambourine. The following number, In Your Eyes, is also an Outside The Law number originally recorded with Fred Kaz. For this acoustic section of the concert it was rewritten as an extended version, with the ending changed to include guitar and violin solos.

Visions is from Epitaph’s eponymous first album, recorded at Wessex Sound Studios, a converted church hall in London, in 1971. While at Wessex, the band used a Mellotron keyboard discovered in a side corridor – the same one used on In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. Klaus’s keyboards and Tim’s fiddle add another dimension to this old favourite. It was probably this piece that inspired many fans to call for an unplugged album, and ever willing to do something new, Epitaph are currently recording just such an album, scheduled for release in spring 2014.

Switching back to electric, Stop Look and Listen is from the album of the same name. Klaus Walz, now with Jane, played guitar on the original 1972 recording, and here he makes a special guest appearance. With Cliff on lead vocals, Bernie doing harmonies, and Klaus joining Heinz on lead guitar, this three-guitar version is a sheer delight.

Ain’t No Liar is another song from the Danger Man album, recorded during the surrealistic Hitpolstein Adventure. An interesting twist to the tale is that Klaus Henatsch played Hammond organ on the original 1980 demo for Ain’t No Liar, so his return to the stage here in Hannover, along with Klaus Walz, marks full circle.

In the mid-seventies, Epitaph was supporting Status Quo on a 20-day tour of Germany; they proved very popular but realised there was a bit of a problem with the transition from their music to Quo’s more boogie style. The transition number was written in literally five minutes and they called it Going to Chicago. It has been an integral part of every live Epitaph gig ever since, and was included on the 1980 Epitaph Live! album.

Who Do You Love is a great encore number, and though based on the backbeat from the 1956 Bo Diddley rock and roll song, and lifting some ideas from cover versions by Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, this version is something that Epitaph has really made their own. Achims’s drum solo is not only highly enjoyable, but also shows that he has lost nothing of his ability to impress. Here also an opportunity to get all guests and special friends back on stage for the finale, including Hannover’s own rock lady Anca Graterol.

Alistair A. Tarwid
June 2013

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